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Meet San Diego Producer Little Tommy Sablan

The iconic TV and radio executive is still stealing hearts with "Breaking & Entering Christmas”

“Little” Tommy Sablan
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Image Credits Photography by Vincent Knakal

“Breaking & Entering Christmas” sounds like a bombed movie title on Rotten Tomatoes. Picture Billy Bob Thornton as a drunken Santa who robs unsuspecting families during the holidays. In reality, “Breaking & Entering Christmas” is an annual grand display of community compassion. Sure, the tongue-in-cheek name is derived from a felonious act. Yet, over the course of this 26-year-old tradition, just one thing gets stolen: hearts.

In 1996, “Little” Tommy Sablan was a young producer for the locally iconic Jeff & Jer radio “Showgram.” Sablan screened a phone call off the air. “I picked up the phone and it was some dude who said, ‘Hey, Tommy, I just lost my job and I have two little girls,’” he says. The man’s name was Richard, and Sablan put him on the air. Richard told listeners he was a single dad and all he wanted was to give his young daughters a good Christmas. His ask? A job interview in the construction field.

The station’s phone lines lit up. A job interview instantaneously materialized. 

A light bulb clicked over Sablan’s head. While Richard subsequently went on the job interview, Sablan snuck into his house and filled it with new toys. Barbie dolls. Candy. A Christmas tree. Even some cologne for Richard.

“I remember the house was in Clairemont near Chargers Street,” Sablan recalls. “I knocked and no one was home. I didn’t hear any dogs. Back then, I was skinny, so I broke in through a window. I opened the door and set everything up.”

Risky? Sure, but recall that in the stop-action animation classic Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town, Kris Kringle got his gift-giving start while on the wrong side of the law.

Sablan’s break-in was broadcast live on the airwaves with radio hosts Jeff Detrow and Jerry Cesak helping narrate. As Little Tommy was finishing up and preparing to leave Richard’s house that day, he caught a glimpse of a family photo that included a mom. Then he noticed a funeral card. “I realized the mom was in heaven,” Sablan says, pausing during this interview to maintain his composure. “I remember getting the chills. Good chills. I felt good.”

That good deed was the genesis of many more to come. 

“Little” Tommy Sablan
“Little” Tommy Sablan

Born in 1964, Tommy was the youngest of Rosa Sablan’s five kids. Tommy’s dad died on Father’s Day in 1970.

“I never knew we were poor,” says Sablan, who was born and raised in Chula Vista and went to Castle Park High School. “I don’t know how my mom did it.”

Caught ditching school in 1982, Sablan was given a choice that included accepting an unpaid radio internship. He took the opportunity and excelled. Six years later, two DJs from Chicago came to town and Sablan was paired with them as a producer. Thus began a 30-year odyssey. Jeff & Jer started at Y95 (1988-90). Then came: B-100 (1990-93); Q106 (1993-97); STAR 100.7 (1997-2005); My 94.1/STAR 94.1 (2005-09); and KyXy (2011-2017).

As producer, Sablan got the opportunity to meet hundreds of celebrities of the day. He befriended Luther Vandross and worked with national acts like Seal, Bon Jovi, John Mayer, and scores of others. Sablan has two kids, Eddie and Vanessa, and a granddaughter, Olivia. He gleefully recalls Eddie getting to meet Seal backstage at a Jingle Ball charity music concert.  

The Jeff & Jer team got laid off for 17 months during the Great Recession. Sablan was hired by KUSI-TV in 2010 as executive producer of content. When the Jeff & Jer Showgram was revived in 2011 on KxYy, Sablan worked both jobs. The radio gig on KyXy lasted until 2017 (Jer retired in 2015). In 2016, Sablan, Jeff, and Jer were elected to the National Radio Hall of Fame. He remains the only producer enshrined by that organization.

These days, Sablan is also co-hosting a KUSI weekend TV show with Robert “Sully” Sullivan called On the Air with Sully and Little Tommy. Former co-host Russ Stolnack (known as Russ T. Nailz) died earlier this year. “I consider it a radio show hosted by two guys who have no business being on television,” Sablan says. The 100th episode of On the Air ran on October 22. It airs on Saturdays at 11am and Sundays at 5am.

A few years after “Breaking & Entering Christmas” became an annual event, Sablan received a message from the daughters of a man named John Cruz. Turns out Cruz had been a friend of Sablan’s dad. Both were veterans.

Cruz’s daughters informed Sablan that after his dad died, their father had filled a box with toys and left it on his porch at Christmas. It was a revelation. Sablan’s mind raced. Emotions flowed. He realized that subconsciously, this must have been the inspiration for “Breaking & Entering.” “John Cruz inspired me to help others,” Sablan says. “I can relate to the kids in the families we choose. I know we’re going to make them smile and give them the spirit of the holidays. And give them hope.”

Each year, when Sablan puts out the notice that he’s looking for people to write letters and nominate families to become gift recipients, he gets hundreds of responses. He picks one family to feature, but lots of families also receive support (off the air) from friends of the program.

This year, KUSI is dedicating a major part of its Saturday, December 10 newscast to “Little Tommy’s ‘Breaking & Entering Christmas.’” From 6 to 11am, cameras will follow the action as the day unfolds and a local family with kids gets a Christmas they weren’t expecting.

Want to pitch in and help support a family that was submitted to “Breaking & Entering Christmas?” Contact littletommy@kusi.com.   

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